Which school for your child?

Our experts advise you on the important issues

Clive Pierrepont
Clive Pierrepont
Lynn Nolan
Lynn Nolan
Jalsa Mani
Jalsa Mani
David Hammond
David Hammond

What questions should I ask when I tour a school? Helen, via email
David: You should ask the following: the number of years the school has been established, turnover of staff, teaching staff experience, what kind of assessments are done and how frequently, how pupil progress is shared with parents and children. You should also ask about extra curricular activities, sport, music, trips, policies on rewards/sanctions/behaviour, homework. How does the school challenge and/or support children?

I want my child to start school in September 2012. Is it too late to start looking, do schools still accept applications now? Sema, via email
Clive: No it is not too late to start looking but do not leave it any longer. Most schools will accept applications year round, however in the more popular schools you might be applying to get on to a wait list or you might find that they are closed for applications for a particular section. There is acute demand for kindergarten and primary school places, however the good news is that more provision is being built in this sector and this should alleviate some of the pressure for places.
David: Most schools will have filled places for September but some may still accept applications in case of cancellations. In our school, places for Reception 2012 were offered out in December 2011 – applications are still being accepted but unfortunately we would not be in a position to guarantee a place at this stage. In our school, admissions for Reception are accepted 19 months in advance of the child starting school.

My daughter just turned two and I haven’t put her on any waiting list yet, when should I start to look? Sukaina, via Facebook
Clive: Start looking around now and visiting schools on your list while there is plenty of time. Put your application in early as many good schools are holding applications for the next two or three years.
Lynn: Most parents will start looking around and exploring options when the child is in nursery. Around two years of age seems to be the average, however, some begin earlier. Talk to your child’s nursery as they can usually support and advise on the best options. Nurseries should be able to offer advice on the schools which the majority of their students have enrolled after leaving the nursery and may have an affiliation with certain primary schools. Mothers groups and social networks are also a good source of advice. It’s never too early in my opinion, to start investigating, especially if the schools of choice have long waiting lists.

How easy is it to change curricula once my child is enrolled in a certain system? May, via Facebook

Clive: International curricula these days are skill-based and are designed to foster awareness, attitudes understanding and empathy in students. This makes transferring from one curriculum to another fairly easy with primary and middle school children. Transfer becomes more challenging through the latter teenage years when external examinations are being studied for and specific, course relate knowledge is required to pass specific exams.
Jalsa: The transfer can affect the psychology of the child as they have to change their mindset from curriculum to subject and their way of dealing with it. Every curriculum has its own system according to which the methodology is applied. If the transfer is really necessary, the parent should consider a syllabus which isn’t too different in the curriculum and the way it deals with certain subjects. For example, the transfer from CBSE curriculum to ‘O’ level may prove disastrous for the child but transfer from CBSE to ICSE may not affect the child as much, as both the curriculums have certain common points.

When my child starts school in September, will there be things like the PTA for me to join? How can I get involved? Nicola, via email

Lynn: Usually there will be a PTA or a class parent representative, who can be involved and communicate with other parents. Some schools have excellent School/Parent Communications Policies. When visiting schools and various open days, this would be an important question on my list of enquiries as parental involvement is always a welcoming and positive aspect of any school.
Clive: One of the signs of a good school is a vibrant Parents Association with parents considered as partners in the education process. Most Parents’ Associations will be proactive and will have some role in welcoming new members to the school community. Have a look at the school website to see the sort of activities the Parent Association is involved in, there may also be contact details for new parents to get in touch with existing members prior to starting school. If there are no obvious signs, ask the school directly for details.

A lot of the schools charge a Dhs500 registration fee just to be put on the waiting list and with no guaranteed place, while others don’t. What is the reasoning behind this? To us parents it just feels very sly and unfair! I’ve paid Dhs2,000 just to put my son on waiting lists.. And now my son has a place in a school that didn’t it take earlier.. So Dhs2000 down the drain! Falastien, via Facebook
Lynn: There is a KHDA directive that schools and nurseries cannot charge above Dhs500 for the registration fee. However, a registration fee is part of the admissions process required when a child is registering to join or start at the nursery or school. It is preferable that a school not take a fee to only reserve a seat without any guarantees that the child will be placed. Ideally the registration fee is required to secure a place and assists the school or nursery with the admission process and organization of class numbers. If no registration fee was taken, there is a chance that classes would be left empty as parents decide for other options. This would affect the operational aspects of the schools. There maybe a waiting period only if the child has not reached the required age when the parents request registration or if the ‘seat’ is only available after a certain time due to another reason.

Do some schools automatically feed into others, so I’ll be more likely to get them a place for secondary school? Zoe, via email
Clive: Primary schools usually do have arrangements with one or several secondary schools but transfer is not necessarily automatic. When joining a standalone primary school ask them about arrangements for transfer to secondary schools and the process involved. Many parents choose Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools so that transfer between the stages is seamless.

How does choosing a school have an influence on getting into world class universities? Sukaina, via Facebook

David: Ensuring your child receives the right foundation from the beginning will affect his or her ability in later years. Children need to be prepared, not just academically, but also socially and in their attitude to learning and ability to be independent learners.

What is the difference between CBSE and ICSE? What factors should a parent think about when choosing for their child? Ekta, via Facebook
Jalsa: The difference between CBSE and ICSE is in the approach. ICSE subjects have more depth, for example English and Social studies have two papers each from grade 9 onwards. The CBSE is considered to have a scientific approach in teaching and learning .Where as ICSE curriculum is considered very heavy and more application learning is encouraged. Students will need the right mindset for ICSE. As such ICSE students can stand the strain of any stream later in life for their higher education.

Is the pre-conceived idea that the Indian system is more academic than American/British education true? Disha, via Facebook

Jalsa: Yes, on the whole Indian education system is divided into four categories: pre schooling, primary, secondary and higher secondary. The Indian system is more academic as reading and writing are both equally encouraged from the pre schooling. Inclusion of co-curricular activities with reading and writing serves as a complete dish for all round development of the child. The Indian education system is considered one of the best across the globe.

How safe are school buses – really? I have heard some horror stories. Mariam, via email
Lynn: A good school will always have a health and safety policy which should include the safety of students while travelling to and from school, both on school transport and by other means. Policies should be transparent and available for parents to view. The law now requires all school and nursery transport to be fitted with seatbelts and/or suitable car seats. It is also mandatory for an assistant to travel on the bus along with the driver. It is the assistant’s responsibility to ensure that all students remain seated and secured throughout the journey. At the end of the day it is the parent’s decision as to whether school transport is a viable option. In my opinion, parents should have the right to investigate and question all aspects of the school transport system and policies in order to feel comfortable with a decision.
Clive: There have been some well publicized stories about incidents on school buses. As a general rule school buses are safe and are regulated by the government. Make sure that your school bus has a female bus nanny who should be contactable by phone at all times and that you have the number of the school bus operator and the person in charge of school transport at the school to express any concerns. These days many buses are fitted with GPS tracking devices and cameras for
added safety.

How does the level of education compare with schools back home (UK). I know it’s private here, but it is the only option – if we do go home, will my kids be able to fit back in easily then? Melissa, via email
This is often a big worry for parents but be assured that if they are transferring from schools that teach internationally recognized curricula that are skills based, then the transition should be fairly seamless. Standards in Dubai’s leading schools are as good as, if not better, than a lot schools in the UK. Good schools will track student’s progress and bench mark their achievements against international standards, most leading schools will have these statistics to share with parents.

My child’s birthday falls over the summer holidays, which means she’d be the youngest in her year. Do schools in Dubai have a general policy of keeping children in a 1st September-31st August school year, or are they flexible if I’d like to place her in the year below so she is the eldest? Does the age gap even out as the child gets older? Nadia, via Facebook
Age boundaries in schools differ, some have a September to August date range for admissions, others January to December, this will be clearly stated in their admissions policy. Research does indicate that children that are the eldest in their class score better. My advice to parents is that if you have the opportunity to give your child this advantage, take it. The benefits will far outweigh any disadvantages, especially for boys. Most schools will usually accommodate this request and some may even suggest it.
David: Our cut off date is 31st August. Other schools may differ.

What’s the deal with afterschool activities? Some seem to be paid, whereas others are organised by the school – do I have to sign my child up? She’s going into kindergarten, and I can’t help but feel it’s going to be a very long day. Suzanne, via email
After school activities or ECAs will often fall into two categories, firstly those that are provided by teachers from within the school and should be free of charge and secondly those of a more specialist nature which are provided by outside professionals and usually incur a charge. The distinction should be quite clear. A list is usually published at the beginning of a school semester and there are usually more activities available as children get older. Talk to your child about the kind of activities that are available and the ones they would like to get involved with that will perhaps further an interest they may have or help them develop new skills. ECAs should give children the opportunity to explore and develop their interests and talents and enjoy themselves without any academic pressure. Encourage rather than push your children to explore new opportunities, it may be your ambition for them to win Junior Wimbledon but it might not necessarily be theirs!
Lynn: My advice would be to check out the security and pick up policies regarding any after school activity. Important questions to ask: how are students supervised during the activity, especially if the activity is offered by an outside body? Is there adequate adult supervision while students are waiting to be collected from school? Is there a security guard on the premises after school? Is there an ‘adult to adult’ pass
over policy?

Panel of experts

Clive Pierrepont
Dad-of-five Clive is director of communications at Taaleem and a Board Member of British Schools in The Middle East. Before coming to Dubai, he worked with the British Government on education reform, and was the Director at The Sultan’s School in Muscat, Oman where as part of his role he oversaw His Majesty Sultan Qaboos’s Scholarship Scheme.

Lynn Nolan
Lynn is an educator and a working mother. She has over 15 years experience in the field, both as an Early Years Practioner and primary teacher. She is now a consultant with her own child safety and protection company, Rentacrib LLC.

Jalsa Mani
Jalsa is principal of Ryan Star International School Sharjah. She has been in the education field for past 25 years and has experience of dealing with different Indian curricula.

David Hammond
David has been Head of Dubai English Speaking School (DESS) since 2005. DESS was the first British school in Dubai and is a not-for-profit institution.

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